History of Patrician Secondary School Gymnasium

by former teacher Bob Roche

The Patrician Gymnasium has been an integral part of the school campus since 1977. During its thirty one years it has served the school and the town of Newbridge in many ways including all of the many fine games of Basketball, Volleyball, Table Tennis, Badminton, P.E. classes etc. and for many years, as the venue for all of the outstanding Musical Productions staged by the school, and a host of other school activities from , State Examinations to school assemblies, Graduations, Parent Teacher meetings etc. etc.

The local community of Newbridge and its numerous sporting clubs, have over the years, been very welcome patrons of the Gym, using the facility for Bingo, Trade Fairs, Charity Auctions, Bridge Nights, Irish Dancing Féiseanna, Battle of the Bands performances, Five a Side Soccer , Volleyball Tournaments etc. etc.

The idea for the gym

The idea for build a gymnasium grew out of the desire, around 1973 of Brother Paul Brennan to improve the sporting facilities in the school. Br. Paul initially favoured the idea of building a Squash Court but the cost of building such a structure, at the time estimated to be about £15,000 seemed to be too much of a debt to endure. The proposal for the squash court was shelved but the idea was born and the dream went on. Then in the words of Br. Paul “We dreamt. We shelved the dream for another generation. But the dream wouldn’t go away until Bro. Joseph announced in the form of a rhetorical question: “Paul, don’t you think we should build a gym.” We built it there and then; dismantled it; reassembled it with a different roof; dismantled it again and rebuilt again and again. The dream went on, but there was more shape to it now. Other gyms were visited and probably criticized liberally. Some members of the Staff got involved in the planning and within no time some amateur and professional engineers were on the site, to-ing and fro-ing and bristling with ideas. And still there was no money! That would grow around the gym later, no doubt!”


Construction phase

In 1975 the gym project began to take some positive shape, final plans were drawn, planning permission was sought , the site was marked out and the initial contract to erect the main Portal Frame structure was given to a Galway company, the gym now had a roof. Work on the gymnasium began in the spring of 1976 and was completed in 1977. The building of the gymnasium brought out the best in the local community and most of the work was carried out by voluntary labour under the masterful stewardship of Br Paul . Anybody who was capable of handling a trowel or a hammer was enlisted by Br Paul to give a hand for a few hours on a Saturday morning or indeed at any other time. Work continued throughout the summer of 1976 and through the following school year, with many of Br Paul’s classes spending their time carrying concrete blocks or shifting lorryloads of sand or gravel as needed throughout the building site. Local builders, the Mc Donnell brothers laid most of the thousands of blocks used in the walls and in particular their two apprentices, Peter Byrne (Action Chimneys ) and Angelo Murray served many a long hour of apprenticeship on these walls. Other local tradesmen, Pat Lysaght, Billy Cox , Noel Mc Govern, Christy Herbert, Tom Murray and Alan Reigh were also heavily involved, along with teachers and students from the school and members from Newbridge Town soccer club who gave of their time freely. Meanwhile fundraising activities were in full swing , with raffles, card drives, collections, donations sponsorship of materials and events, keeping the project on target. Work on the building of the Gym continued throughout the winter of 76 and into spring of 77 and the big “push” to complete the work for the official opening meant many long hours and late nights through April 77 and into May . The end was in sight and final touches were put to the paintwork , electrics, heating and cleanup of the site in readiness for the Grand Opening.

The opening ceremony

The opening ceremony was held on Sunday 8th May and following the blessing of the building by the Bishop of Kildare and Loughlin, Dr. Patrick Lennon, Irish Olympic Athlete Eamonn Coughlan , did the honours by cutting the ribbon to declare the Gymnasium open. All of the assembled multitude were hugely impressed by what lay before them . The day of celebration was concluded by a gala recital by the Band of the Curragh Command , conducted by Comdt. Denis Mellerick , that evening.


First sporting activities

The first sporting activity to take place in the new Gymnasium was a seventy two hour Basketball Marathon leading in to the following weekend. Teams were assembled and readied and the playing rota was drawn up. All through the seventy two hours, the scores were added up and the progress of the teams studied to see who might come out on top and through the long night hours, even though tiredness and muscle ache took its toll, the baskets were scored and the funds were added to. There were a few visits to the casualty department of Naas Hospital with suspected sprained ankles but eventually everybody survived the ordeal and the marathon was proclaimed a huge success. On the Saturday night, immediately after the last basket was scored, the gym had to be cleared and the stage that was used for the opening ceremony has to be rebuilt in readiness for the following nights concert by Joe Cuddy and his Band, Joe of the “Coat of Many Colours” fame from the hit musical of the moment “Joseph and the Amazing Technicoloured Dreamcoat”. Eventually the use of the Gymnasium was integrated into the school P.E. programme and by now most of the expenditure had been cleared.

The gym during the 1980’s

During 1981 the Gymnasium hosted its first international event when the England Under 15 Baskerball team played the Ireland team and for many years afterwards the Tricolour and the Union Jack were still to be seen, having been drawn in chalk, on the wall overhead the scoreboard, for the event. The English lads won the day having had a superior height advantage over their Irish counterparts. The ‘smallest’ of their team stood at 6’-6” !. Down through the years, the school has enjoyed many successes and endured a few setbacks in inter school Basketball tournaments and also in volleyball and many a hard fought final took place in the Gym. During the 1980’s Brother James decided to add two squash courts in an area behind the gym, the predecessor to the gym could have been the squash court !

Patrician Secondary P.E. teachers

The P.E. teachers have put students through their paces, in fitness and gymnastic skills, through the years, beginning with Mick Scally and followed by Dick Dunne, Ronan McCool, John Hardiman, Mary Buckley Janice O Brien and especially the present P.E. team of Joe Mulligan, Mary Joyce and Sinéad Nugent. Joe has been the driving force behind the many improvements to the facility which have included the first major painting programme for the gym , which was funded by a grant from the National Lottery. During the building process of the technology Annexe, new changing rooms were added and new heating and electrical systems were installed. In recent years the building has been re-roofed and repainted.

School musicals in the gym

Apart from the sporting activities, probably the greatest events to have been undertaken in the gym, have to be the school Musicals. Sell out performances of popular shows such as, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Fiddler On the Roof, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Oliver, Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease, Les Miserables, Little Shop of Horrors, Aisling, Guys and Dolls and many others including restaging of some of the more popular ones have seen the gymnasium transformed from being a sportshall to a fully operational theatre, fully rigged with lighting, sets, sound equipment and one of the biggest stages in the county. The driving force behind the “School Show” all through the years has been Peter O Reilly and under his management and production the show has never failed to “GO ON” even during the Foot and Mouth crisis. No expense has ever been spared in staging the show. The week of the performance and for about two weeks running up to it, the production gets into full swing, teams of teachers and students are involved, firstly to build the stage and then to build the sets, then the lighting team and sound crew get to work. This is usually the first time that the Director and cast get to rehearse on the stage having been , for weeks on end learning their lines, songs, dances and movement in the classrooms and assembly areas of the school. The Dress Rehearsal usually runs for hours and nothing seems to go right, but in the end Opening Night arrives and then the transformation of the Gym is complete when always, everything seems to fall into place . Some well known performers have had their first stage experiences in the Patrician Musicals, Owen Lynch was a member of the cast for the first production of “Joseph” and Damien Leith who was the winner of Australian Idol first appeared as Fagan in our production of Oliver and again was an outstanding Tevye in the school’s production of Fiddler On The Roof.

Leaving Cert Graduations

Apart from annual school ceremonies like the Leaving cert Graduations and sports awards days, probably the greatest celebration event to take place in the gym was , the Farewell to Brother Bosco, on his retirement from teaching in the school. The great and the good from the Patrician Community along with teachers, parents students, and especially G.A.A. stars and officials, including the President of the G.A.A at the time, Mr Joe Mc Donagh were assembled to pay homage to an outstanding personality.

Famous visitors

Others to visit the Gym down through the years included local and national politicians, from Ministers for Defence and also Education and even the Taoiseach Mr Bertie Ahern. We have also played host to visiting schools from Germany, Hungary and Italy for the launch Of the Commenius Project in 2002. Daniel O Donnell has used the gym to address the assembly of the entire school to personally thank the students for a special collection that they made to his ongoing Romanian Orphanage Appeal. During the early years of the gym, the great storyteller and Seanachaí, Eamonn Kelly took to the stage as the STAR TURN at a concert that also included the Band of The Curragh Command and local performers including the newly formed Town Band and Newbridge Pantomime troupe stars Mick O Keeffe, Liam Ward and Timmy Durney with their comedy routines that they alone could deliver. I recall that a special effort had to be made to acquire a “Butter Box” and Súgán Chair as props for Eamonn. After much research and enquiry both were sourced from a family in Clare.

These are but personal memories of experiences surrounding the Gym, perhaps many others can recall other significant events and personalities connected to the building and I would be delighted to include them in this brief history. Indeed my very first memory of visiting the school to “sign –up” under Brother Joseph was to travel to Newbridge on a warm August day back in 1976 . This was to be my first permanent appointment as a teacher and I arrived in my best suit at the time only to find Br Joe in a pair of turned down Wellingtons in the middle of the building site. When completing the paperwork, a witness was needed to verify the signatures, and Seamus Mullooly was called from his labours high up on the scaffold, where he was building another section of the Band Course that was to hold the wall sections together. The soundness of his concrete mixing abilities is borne out by the fact that not a crack is to be seen in the building to this day. Every teacher in the school, down through the years has had an input into the Gym, whether through the actual building project of through their involvement in the many activities that it has been home to and without their efforts in that time, perhaps this brief article would have been unnecessary.

Bob Roche.